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Room to move

Pushing back the boundaries of low power design for mixed signal electronics. By Julian Hayes.

Some people in the marketing world preach that mobile multimedia will lead us to technological enlightenment. But this rocky road to ubiquitous audio/video is littered with challenges; high performance analogue devices consuming negligible power being just one of them.

Perhaps the most obvious way to save power is to reduce the supply voltage – Ohms's Law dictates this. Shrinking geometries is a well observed route to lowering power, as smaller gate lengths need lower drain-source voltages to activate them. They also hold less charge, which accelerates switching times but also reduces active current and therefore power.

But die shrinks bring significant design challenges and these are even tougher in complex mixed signal design, because the lower operating voltage reduces the noise tolerance of analogue circuit elements. Modelling errors at the finer geometry are also more prevalent, and have a greater impact on analogue design than in the digital domain.

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Graham Pitcher

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